Surat Chiri

The title page of Maxwell's 'An Account of the Malay Chiri'.

“Being in Perak in an official capacity during the military operations in that State in 1875-6, I ascertained that it was generally believed by the natives that among the treasures said to comprise the regalia of the Sultan was a mysterious document written in the bahasa jin (language of the Genii), on the possession of which the safety of the kingdom depended. The name given to it was Surat chiri ; surat in Malay meaning a document, and chiri a ‘sign’ or ‘written testimony’. All inquiries for the document in question, or for copies of it, proved fruitless for a long time. They tended to prove, however, that no manuscript in the Sanskrit or other ancient character existed in Perak, and that the document called chiri, whatever it was, was written in the ordinary Malay-Arabic character.

“Communication with Johor, the state in which the dethroned Sultan of Perak was living, produced little result. The original chiri was said to have disappeared several reigns back, in one of the petty wars which were formerly common in Perak, and though a substitute had been written down from the dictation of one of the privileged family trusted with the reading or reciting of the mystic formula, even this had been mislaid, and could not be found. In 1879, chance brought to light a copy of the document for which search had so long been made. A chest of native manuscripts which had belonged to former Sultans of Perak was opened at the British Residency, and among them was a small MS. volume containing the laws of the State. This transcript was dated the 18th Rajab, a.h. 1234, so it is about sixty years old.

“This mystic document is looked upon by Perak Malays as a solemn form of oath, and it is always read when the newly-appointed holder of any one of the important offices of the State is invested with his title and honours. The hereditary custodians and readers of the chiri are the family of which the chief called Sri Nara Diraja (an hereditary grand chamberlain) is the head. They belong to the bangsa muntah lembu (‘tribe of the cow’s vomit’*, an allusion to a myth which will be detailed further on), and they avoid the flesh of the cow, as well as milk, butter, ghee, etc.

“When the chiri is read at the installation of a chief in Perak, the candidate stands on the ground below the Raja’s balei or audience-hall, which is usually a small open pavilion connected with the Raja’s residence. The reader stands above, in the hall which is raised—after the fashion of Malay buildings—a few feet off the ground, by means of piles driven into the earth. The balei being open on all sides, the reader can take his stand immediately above the recipient of the royal favour, who stands below. The chiri is then read, and  at a particular passage towards the end of it, where the word ami (such-a-one) occurs, the name of the new chief is introduced. Water, in which the royal sword of state has been dipped is poured from above, its course being directed by means of a plantain-leaf. The new chief receives it in the palms of his hands joined together. He usually receives from the Raja a change of raiment {turun tiga), consisting of three garments.”

[Source:  An Account Of The Malay Chiri – A Sanskrit Formula by Maxwell W.E]

For the second part of this post, click here.

1 thought on “Surat Chiri

  1. Pingback: Surat Chiri Part II « SEMBANG KUALA

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